The U.S. inherited this position two decades ago upon the implosion of the
Soviet Union and the socialist camp and is hardly prepared to step aside. The
policy Washington adopted at that time, and which remains in force today, is to
prevent the emergence of any powerful rival or military force potentially able
to undermine American dominion.
No other country is grabbing for the global supremacy, but a number of states with advanced and developing economies think it's time for a new international construct with multipolar leadership.
The Obama Administration's sacrosanct mission, as with earlier Washington governments, is to keep the political and geographic ground gained by the U.S. in the 66 years since the end of World War II, when it became leader of the capitalist world's Cold War contention with communism.
This ground was extended in the post-Cold War period mainly through U.S. control of global economic institutions, the political absorption of the states of Eastern Europe that had been in the Soviet orbit, unequaled military power, and for the last
decade the "war on terrorism" launched by former President George W. Bush.
President Barack Obama took over from Bush in Iraq, greatly enlarged the
Afghan war and extended fighting to western Pakistan, Yemen and now Libya. In
addition, Obama seeks to retain smaller but substantial U.S. military forces in
Iraq and Afghanistan years beyond their anticipated pullout dates at a time when
public opinion backs a total withdrawal.
Washington has had its eye on dominating MENA [the Middle East and North Africa] for its energy resources for over 70 years and attracted several key regional nations such as Saudi Arabia to its orbit many decades ago. In more recent years, U.S. hegemony has been extended throughout the entire region with the exception of Iran, the acquisition of which was postponed because of the military-political debacle caused by the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In the decade since 9/11 Washington lengthened its imperial reach into Central Asia by projecting its formidable military power into Afghanistan, one of the poorest
countries on Earth. The ostensible purpose was to capture bin Laden and defeat
al Qaeda, the organization he founded in the 1980s with support from Pakistan,
Saudi Arabia and the U.S. during the civil war against a progressive government
in Kabul and its Soviet military protectors.
The Obama Administration is anxious to retain military bases and thousands of troops in Iraq, which it is supposed to leave entirely at the end of this year, and in Afghanistan as well, when the U.S. is scheduled to depart at the end of 2014. President Obama is applying heavy pressure to Baghdad and Kabul to "request" the long-term presence of U.S. troops and "contractors" after the bulk of the occupation force withdraws.
Why keep troops in Iraq? The neoconservative Bush White House invaded Iraq, which was considered a pushover after 12 years of U.S.-British-UN killer sanctions, not only to control its oil but as a prelude to bringing about regime change in neighboring Iran, thus providing Washington with total control of the immense resources of the Persian Gulf. The Iraqi guerrilla resistance destroyed the plan, for now.
Thus, the upshot of the war — in addition to costing American taxpayers several trillion dollars over the next few decades in principal and interest — is that Shi'ite Iran's main enemy, which was the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad until 2003, has been replaced by the Shi'ite government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a politician who usually bends the knee to Washington but is quite friendly to Tehran, as are many Iraqi politicians.
Most importantly the U.S. has no desire to completely withdraw from its only foothold in Central Asia, militarily positioned close to what are perceived to be its two main enemies with nuclear weapons (China, Russia), and two volatile nuclear powers backed by the U.S. but not completely under its control by any means (Pakistan, India). Also, this fortuitous geography is flanking the extraordinary oil and natural gas wealth of the Caspian Basin and energy-endowed former Soviet Muslim republics such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Lastly, Iran — a possible future imperial prize — is situated between Iraq to the west and Afghanistan to the east. The U.S. wants to keep troops nearby for any contingency.
Washington's foothold in Central Asia is a potential geopolitical treasure, particularly as Obama, like Bush before him, seeks to prevent Beijing and Moscow from extending their influence in what is actually their own back yard, not America's.
Both former Cold War adversaries are acutely aware of Washington's intentions and are trying to block U.S. maneuvers through the regional Shanghai Cooperation
Organization and other means, such as Beijing's recent warm and supportive
gestures toward an appreciative Islamabad. While China and Russia have supported
the U.S. war in Afghanistan, they both — and no doubt Pakistan and India as well
— strongly oppose the prospect of a long term U.S./NATO military presence in the
The White House has been twisting the Kabul government's arm to sign a "status of forces" agreement allowing a relatively large American contingent of troops, special forces, CIA operatives, paramilitary contractors, military trainers, etc. — perhaps between 10,000-20,000 occupying up to six military bases — to remain in Afghanistan after the end of the 2014 pullout date. President Obama might then claim that the Afghans requested the forces for their own security. So far the Karzai government is holding out, but eventual agreement is probable.
The closest Obama has come to publicly acknowledging the partial withdrawal effort was on 60 Minutes May 8 with the obscure comment that "we don't need to have a perpetual footprint of the size we have now."
The main problem in keeping a smaller "perpetual footprint" is that the Taliban insists on a total withdrawal and abandonment of all U.S. bases as well as troops. Otherwise they won't agree to the truce that is necessary to justify Obama's "honorable" withdrawal. The U.S. seems intent upon pounding the Taliban militarily until it agrees. Eventually, Washington may prevail by offering the Taliban more money and more political and administrative power in the new arrangement. Perhaps the troops might be renamed "contractors" and the U.S. could transfer the bases to Kabul, which would lease them back to the Americans.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Maintaining Our Foothold in Central Asia
Last week, I wrote a post about the bipartisan geostrategic perspective of the American foreign policy establishment, whose number one goal for many decades now has to been to remain 'the dominant global hegemon.' Jack Smith has written a helpful article explaining what this means in terms of both our current involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. First his take on Iraq and Afghanistan, which rings very true to me.